The halfway mark


While I have been writing more than usual, and re-posting those articles on Foreign Filipina, I’m aware that I haven’t made a personal update on this blog in awhile.  Now it’s already June and half of the year has gone by. In a couple of weeks I’m turning 25 and reaching the mid-twenties mark. I’m reminded of what Britney Spears once said, “I’m not a girl, not yet a woman.” But replace the lyrics with “I’m not a kid, not yet an adult.”


These past 6 months I have been feeling myself grow up, not as a sense of becoming, but a knowing that I’ve already arrived. I know that we’re always going to change, but there’s a beauty in accepting who you are, where you are, flaws and all, now at this certain point in time. A quiet echo that resonates through your entire being. A centre that keeps you balanced and gives you the perspective to weather any unfortunate circumstance.

I feel incredibly grateful for the now.

To be working in a healthy environment (with a good client) where I’m learning how to refine and sharpen my skills.

To be able to still write regularly on the side for a publication that I respect and trust.

To be able to travel far and wide without (too much) guilt and not burning a hole in my savings.

To be able to start and maintain my own passion project (

To be healthy(er), and pushing my physical fitness by actually going to the gym and running regularly.

To have people whom I love and trust in my life.

I realize now that happiness is a lifestyle choice.  It’s a sum total of what you surround yourself with from the people you hang out with to what you do in your spare time and on the weekends. Once you realize that, then every decision you make should work towards to crafting the life of love and happiness that you want.

Here’s to the rest of 2015.

Walang ganyan sa States

The legalization of Uber in the Philippines reminded me of the “Walang ganyan sa States” ad I saw when I was a kid. Now that I’m working overseas, I can finally connect the dots about what it was trying to say about this Filipino mentality. My thoughts about how to channel that mindset into positive and progressive change on my latest article on Rappler. 


Walang ganyan sa States.” (That doesn’t happen in the US)

Do you remember this pinoy catchphrase made popular in 2003 by a Petron advertisement?

In the advertisement, a balikbayan mother-in-law begins criticizing everything the moment she arrives back home – traffic, potholes and more.

Naturally, each and every critique ends with “Walang ganyan sa states.” But at the end, when her grandchildren shower her with affection, her son-in-law echoes the phrase to her once more, albeit in a different light. Truly, you won’t find that same sense of family back in the States, or anywhere else.

I was 13 when that ad first aired. But more than a decade later, I still remember it like it was yesterday.

Perhaps the tagline stuck in my subconscious over the years because it was witty, heartwarming and funny. As a child, I did not fully understand the ad’s subtext, how it tried to convey the Filipino inferiority and colonial complex – where everything ‘foreign’ is better. But now as an adult who’s left the comforts of Manila to seek opportunities elsewhere, the message finally hits a lot closer to home.

Greener grass

I realize with a smile that I am now the balikbayan mother-in-law, in those exasperated moments where I catch myself judging my nation; for not offering the same liberties provided elsewhere, when my patience is sorely tested by a bureaucracy seldom found when living abroad.

Beyond monetary compensation, quality of life is part of what makes living abroad compelling, especially when you work in a safe, “first world” country like Singapore. Not only is transport easily accessible, but I can also take a cab home late at night, free of the fear of being a criminal’s next victim.

‘Walang ganyan sa Philippines’

I also see that balikbayan mother-in-law in my friends who complain everyday about the horrendous traffic or derailing public transportation system. And they don’t even work abroad.

For well-traveled Filipinos, it’s not uncommon to come back home feeling a little heftier – weighed down by rich food, new clothes, but most of all, a heavy heart.

Every new exposure to the world is a double-edged sword that inspires as it disillusions, where newly informed expectations of home are often met with disappointment.

You love the Philippines but oh, the #ThirdWorldProblems. How often do we hear: “Why can’t our MRT be as efficient as the BTS Skytrain in Thailand?” or “Why can’t our streets be as clean as Singapore?” #WalangGanyanSaPhilippines.

The progressive mindset

These observations and complaints are anything but new. It’s a narrative Filipinos have grown up with, and bring as part of their baggage when they move abroad.

But when the Philippines made the local and international headlines about being the first country in the world to legalize Uber, my first thought was “Finally!”

It reminded me of when I first started using taxi apps when I moved to Singapore. I remember wishing that I had an Uber or GrabTaxi while growing up in Manila and could not wait until this global trend found its way back home.

The Uber news is a big deal because it’s a sign of how progressive the Philippines can be. But, it’s only one of many examples of how you can turn global learnings into a model that works locally.

Simply look to our burgeoning hostel and backpacking scene, a concept once commonly identified as a European one. Thanks to pioneers like the Circle Hostel in Zambales and La Union, it’s a trend that has since helped to etch our spot as a top global travel destination.

Then there is Mustari Raji, who tapped into his experience as a pool water treatment specialist in Saudi Arabia to create a floating swimming pool in the sea.

As a former national champion and coach, he gives less fortunate children living in coastal areas a chance to become the nation’s future champion swimmers.

The reality is that we can’t escape from the Walang ganyan sa Philippines” mentality. It’s only natural for us to compare and contrast what we don’t have, versus what we wish we did.

But instead of complaining, let’s imagine what we can do to become better instead. Let’s say to ourselves, “Walang ganyan sa Philippines. Paano natin puwedeng gawin yan dito?” (There’s nothing like that in the Philippines. So how can we do that here?)


#IGiveADayOff: Yayas and moms in Singapore

Who knows their kids better? Is it the mothers or maids?

In a controversial video featuring mothers and maids being quizzed about the children they care for, 74% of the maids had more correct answers than the mothers.

Questions ranged from what the children want to become when they grow up, to their favorite subject at school, who their best friend or crush is. Then the heart tugging video asks the mothers, “Shouldn’t we spend more time with our children?” as a segue to their main message of “Let’s give domestic works their legal days off.”

The recent #IGiveADayOff campaign by ad agency Ogilvy Singapore for non-profit Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2) triggered an online debate about the right of foreign domestic workers to a weekly day off and the reality of working mothers who don’t spend enough time with their children.

According to their study, 40% of Singapore’s foreign domestic workers do not have a weekly day off despite a law in 2013 that made it mandatory.

Many felt that though the campaign’s intention came from a good place, the approach of shaming mothers went somewhat amiss. It struck a nerve as it reflected the painful trade-off working mothers face – that between earning a living and spending time with their children.

'MUM OR MAID?' The video that tested mothers and maids on who knows their kids' better stirred controversy in Singapore. Screengrab from YouTube

‘MUM OR MAID?’ The video that tested mothers and maids on who knows their kids’ better stirred controversy in Singapore. Screengrab from YouTube

But unlike the working mothers depicted in the video, the trade-off faced by foreign maids who are also parents also stings.

Out of the 222,500 foreign domestic workers in Singapore, approximately 32% or 70,000 are Filipinos. These are women who don’t get to return home to their families at the end of every day. And despite many being denied the right to a day off by their employers, they persist to work overseas to provide a better future for their own children back home.

Cost of going home

While many maids are working mothers too, they don’t have the luxury of flying home whenever they want to.

The average monthly salary of a Filipino maid is SG$500, while a round-trip Singapore-Manila ticket costs approximately half of that (SG$250-$300).

Then there are many other expenses to consider, from homeward-bound remittances to surviving in a country twice labeled as the most expensive city in the world in recent years.

Unfair working conditions

As a collectivist culture, Filipino values are deeply rooted in the family. Regardless of liberal and Western influence over the years, the family is still the basic building block of our society.

With the physical and mental distance placed between loved ones, that very bond becomes strained for overseas Filipino workers (OFWs). Though having an emotional support system is important for anyone living abroad, it’s even more crucial for OFWs who work under unfair labor conditions, denied of their rights.

According to a Humanitarian Organization for Migration Economics (HOME) study, 27% of respondents said their employers have entered and searched their rooms or checked their phones, while 73% were restricted from communicating with their friends and family members.

The study also found that the maids tend to work long hours (a daily average of 13 hours), and 4 in 10 did not have a weekly day off. Almost a quarter of 700 women surveyed suffered from mental problems and only 54% received adequate medical attention when they fell sick.

The emotional debit

For many domestic workers, theirs is a familiar tale – that they are working overseas to support their family. OFW mothers are pillars of strength, breadwinners who can only show their love from 2,391 km away, one transfer at a time.They are lauded as unsung heroes by our government, often because their remittances help keep the Philippine economy afloat.

But who’s supporting them in return for the monetary assistance they provide? With every deposit into their Philippine bank account comes an emotional withdrawal for an OFW.

While Labor Day celebrates the achievement of workers around the world, Mother’s Day puts the spotlight on domestic workers who are mothers.

Though maids might know the children of their employers better than the parents do, we should take care not to write off the emotional needs and the rights of OFWs too.

View my original article on Rappler. 

Pasay’s lost glory days

A few months back Candice – an old editor whom I’ve actually never had the chance to meet in person – asked me to contribute a story to her lovely blog project called The Story When – a collaborative project that weaves individual stories into a casual anthology.

These are personal stories you hear from relatives, strangers, that often slip through time, but are reflective of that certain period. Capturing it as written word is a way to preserve history. I wrote about Pasay’s lost glory days, re-told from the passenger seat of my pop’s car.


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The bustling Metro Manila metropolis is no stranger to urbanization. Every time I go home to visit from overseas I’m always on the look out whether anything has changed. Are there new buildings? Has the traffic gotten better or worse? Is yet another new mall being built? What’s the hottest new club?

It’s a city constantly under construction. Even though I’m only in my twenties, I have already witnessed how much Metro Manila has changed, for better and worse, under the guise of different leadership and foreign exposure.

As a Makati girl, I have experienced the rise and fall of Embassy Super Club under its different iterations, the influx of traffic into ‘The Fort’ as new condominiums, bars, restaurants, and offices has turned it into the central business district and the hippest place to be seen hanging out with friends after work or on the weekends.

But once upon a time, before the gated villages of Makati started to rise, Pasay was the land of rich and the ‘mayaman’, recalls my pops.

When he would drives us around the city as kids, instead of playing the radio in the car, he would reminisce about the good old days.  Every car ride was like taking a trip back in time. Pops would make kwento about every nook and cranny in the city—a backstory that we would probably never learn in school or even make an effort to Google. These are stories that are passed down through the generations, not via the Internet, but straight from the mouths of people who actually lived through it.

Pops tells us that, back then, Pasay shared a long coastal area with Manila and Paranaque—often a site for swimming or witnessing a scenic setting sun by the bay to mark the end of the day.

With a population of about 20 million people, Pasay was peaceful, unpolluted, well lit, and decorated with trees. People took long walks in the evening because it was safe.

Before Dasmariñas and Forbes, Pasay housed a community of ungated villages and walled properties with no condominiums. The old residents of today’s gated Makati villages were once residents of Pasay. Even the original Polo Club was located in Pasay.

Like the Makati and Fort Bonifacio of today, Pasay was the gateway city and a center for trade, so its development was fast. But with a heavy heart, pops says that the fast urbanization, although planned well by the colonizers, was not executed well by the local government at that time.

Now Pasay has become forgotten, barely part of the local vernacular of the Metro Manila youth. Despite the stories I’ve heard over time, even I don’t have a clear picture of what Pasay looks like now, what more of the glory days back then. I only have the ruminations of my pops to capture that moment in time. And it’s my job to help him preserve his memories by sharing it for the next generation.

But as time continues to pass by, it’s possible that the home I know today might suffer the same fate as Pasay or continue to blossom into the metropolis of tomorrow.  I’ve already seen it change so much in such a short span of time. I can only trust that years from now, I too will reminisce and share about Metro Manila as I’m driving through the city with my kids.

Read the original article here and view more stories from The Story When. 

My new passion project: Out and Abroad

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After mulling about this for the longest time, I FINALLY started my passion project – a blog collective called “Out and Abroad” for all those like me who are already living and working abroad or thinking about making that big move.

Ever since I moved to Singapore I’ve noticed the lack of blogs or articles that chronicle real stories of real people (especially Asians) about this topic. Culture shock. Intercultural relationships. Work permits. Landlords. But so many people, both friends and strangers, have always approached or emailed me asking for advice. My vision for Out and Abroad is to be a blog collective and a platform to broadcast stories for like minded individuals. 

The reality is that more people are becoming ‘global citizens’ but no one is really talking about what that means on a personal level. The struggle is real. Haha.

Don’t worry. I’ll still be using ForeignFilipina as my personal blog (it will never go away!) My sister has asked me what’s the difference. My reply is that Out and Abroad is not about me. It’s about the community I want to build.


Anyway, I hope you guys can help me out in two ways.

1) Like our Facebook page

2)  I’m looking for contributors, particularly Asian women. Please let me know if you know someone who might be interested or write to us at

Thanks :)

The boundaries of free speech as a foreigner

Photo from the internet

Photo from the internet

My thoughts on the Edz Ello controversy and the boundaries of free speech as a foreigner. I’ve changed the headline from what was originally posted on Rappler. I’m using OFWs as an example but I think it’s a common concern for anyone living abroad regardless of their nationality.


Filipinos are no strangers to making the headlines in Singapore.

Last June 2014 a Philippine Independence Day celebration in Singapore was the subject of xenophobic heckling and harassment online, causing the organizers to cancel the event.

(READ: Pinoy group in Singapore drops Independence Day event plan)

A few days ago the couple behind The Real Singapore, a popular alternative news site, was charged with sedition. The cause? They allegedly claimed that a Filipino family caused an incident during Thaipusam, a Hindu festival celebrated by the Tamil community.

Online forums are regularly flooded with comments referring to Filipinos as “foreign trash” or “cockroaches,” making Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) feel angry, ashamed or even apathetic. These derogatory comments are nothing new. The question is whether OFWs should feel obligated to defend theirkababayantooth and nail in a nationalistic effort to change the narrative about Filipinos abroad.

But the controversy sparked by Edz Ello, a Filipino nurse working in a government hospital in Singapore recently charged with sedition and lying to the police for posting hateful comments about Singaporeans online, paints a different picture.

Instead of defending a fellow Filipino, the OFW community too condemned his actions, to the extent of saying that he deserved the strict consequences that followed.

RACIST COMMENT? Filipino Nurse Edz Ello, an OFW in Singapore is fired from his job for allegedly making these racist comments on Facebook. Screenshot from Facebook

RACIST COMMENT? Filipino Nurse Edz Ello, an OFW in Singapore is fired from his job for allegedly making these racist comments on Facebook. Screenshot from Facebook

The unspoken rule: don’t bite the hand that feeds

Most OFWs believe that it’s a privilege to be working overseas, especially in Singapore, where the earning capacity tends to be much higher than back in the Philippines.

Regardless of your nationality or income, the bottom line is that every expatriate and migrant worker is a guest in a foreign country. It’s an implicit agreement – that locals expect respect and sensitivity from those who would share their home.

In the case of Edz Ello, both Singaporean and Filipino netizens alike felt that the hateful comments he posted reflected the exact opposite. They said, “Don’t bite the hand that feeds,” an unspoken rule about not offending your benefactor that OFWs are all too familiar with.

Boundaries of free speech

While OFWs are used to a culture of freedom of speech back home, once we venture beyond our borders the boundaries become gray. Living abroad makes us more self-aware of our actions, especially online, not merely out of fear of being deported or arrested, but also out of respect to our host country.

Singapore, on the other hand, is known for its strict laws about voicing opinions publicly.

The priority of the government is to preserve harmony in a multicultural society, where race is a major social identifier for locals. As mentioned by Law and Foreign Affairs Minister K Shanmugam, “You have full freedom of speech [in Singapore] but it doesn’t extend to offending somebody else.”

So similar to how religion is a popular yet sensitive topic in the Philippines, such inflammatory comments along national and racial lines can elicit controversy in Singapore. This is increasingly relevant amidst growing concerns about the influx of foreigners in recent years, with an almost 40% foreign population.

Goodwill ambassadors

172,700 Filipinos work in Singapore, according to the latest publicly available Philippine government data. As part of the foreigner population in Singapore, the responsibility of OFWs is to become goodwill ambassadors for the Philippines.

We are guardians of the Filipino name for the world at large, whose only points of reference about the Philippines are sweeping generalizations and often negative stereotypes. That’s why the OFW community did not speak up on behalf of Edz Ello. They agree that his actions unfairly represented Filipinos. Even some locals echo the same sentiment – don’t let the actions of one Filipino paint the wrong picture of an entire race.

The Ello controversy reminds us that nationalism goes beyond our bloodline, heritage, language and the color of our skin. It’s about knowing that we can be better Filipinos, while holding our fellow kababayansaccountable to that very standard.

As an OFW, that means doing our utmost best in protecting our name abroad. Then perhaps, we’ll be making headlines for all the right reasons.

Letting go and lighting the way at the Yipeng Lantern Festival

SAMSUNG CSC Over time we become attached to people and places, beliefs and burdens, things and trepidations because they become our markers for meaning. A point of reference for us to gauge who we are.

But what happens when we evolve? Do our attachments hold us back or enable us to grow? Letting go is one of the hardest things to learn. 

This was how I felt after releasing 1 out of 3,000 paper lanterns, which lit the sky on fire when I went to the Yi Peng Lantern Festival in Chiang Mai last year. What started out as something to check off my bucket list became an exercise in letting go. Yipeng5It all happened so fast.

My journey to Chiang Mai started as a spur of the moment decision. I’ve always wanted to attend the Lantern Festival, but I wasn’t available for the international festival date. Luckily my sister who was already in Thailand messaged me the local date, which was happening only a few days away!

After some internal debate about the cost I ended up booking anyway just one day before my departure. And even though buying 4 airplane tickets for a 2 day trip and sleeping overnight at the airport might not be practical, I knew that once-in-a-life-time experiences never are.

Afterwards, every moment leading up to the festival was about waiting.

We waited underneath our makeshift tent of scarves, in the scorching sun, for more than 6 hours. SAMSUNG CSCSAMSUNG CSCSAMSUNG CSC We waited until the procession of monks indicated the start of the ceremony. Yipeng3 Even when the speakers blasted, “Do not light your lantern until we give the signal,” we waited some more.

Our patience was growing thin so we passed time by chanting along with the monks while shifting our weight between kneeling positions. Then finally the loudspeaker blasted the signal. We could finally spark our lanterns. SAMSUNG CSC I was so engrossed in the moment of trying to light my lantern that I almost forgot to look up at the sky. But when I did I was speechless yet overcome with awe and rapture. YiPeng One-by-one the lanterns floated into horizon, like messengers of goodwill delivering our wishes to the universe above; a surreal sea of floating lanterns; a sky burning at the seams with positive energy. I felt so alive witnessing gratitude and hope multiplied by the thousands of wishes floating in the sky.Yipeng4 Me? Well, I held onto my lantern long enough to channel all the people and places, beliefs and burdens, things and trepidations that no longer mattered to me into the fire. Yipeng2 Then I let go not only of my lantern but also of all the parts of my life that don’t serve me anymore. Because I realised that if we don’t let go, hope will never be free to light the way. And if I didn’t let go, I wouldn’t have felt so alive.

Beyond the skyline – A Singapore beach getaway

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On the not so distant islands of St John and Lazarus, just off the coast of Sentosa Cove, we discovered a place where the Singapore skyline meets the sea. An anonymous piece of city paradise to actually dig our toes into the sand and wade in all shades of aquamarine.

The beach isn’t decorated with sun-kissed locals who live off the sea. No bangkas nor wooden boats delivered coconut juice or San Miguel beer up to our boatstep. Instead we found city folk kickin’ back their Havaianas for a day trip of frolicking in their bikinis, with tan lines leaving a mark on their air con weathered skin.

For my friends it was a welcome break from the concrete corporate playground we know Singapore to be. While the beach doesn’t compare to those back home in the Philippines, it was lovely to actually be able to jump off the boat and melt into one of the untouched coastlines in the city. Even until now, after 3 years of living here, Singapore can still surprise and delight. Two islands – St. John’s and Lazarus island – beyond the skyline and a beach getaway just a short ferry or boat ride away.

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Tips and Tricks for Managing Your Money While Traveling

Screen Shot 2015-02-19 at 4.14.06 pmI’ll be honest. Managing money is something that doesn’t come naturally to me. Yes, I can easily save and spend. But it’s being aware of my spending habits and understanding how to make my money really work for me that takes a lot of trial and error.

Luckily, traveling is the best teacher for stubborn people like me who learn best from experience, both good and bad. I call it baptism by fire, especially when you find yourself shortchanged with almost a week left in your trip in a country that doesn’t really accept credit cards. Trust me, it happens and you too can survive.

In the last couple of years I’ve traveled in groups, pairs, alone, for the weekend, over a week, on business and for pleasure. I’m not an expert, but hopefully you can learn from some of my tips below.

Managing your money starts before you trip

Research. I’m sure you’ve heard this before but researching the costs and expenses will give you less of a headache on the road. You don’t need to budget for everything. After all, the best part of traveling is being spontaneous.

But you should know the basics and set aside money for it, like the cost of a hotel and hostel, and most importantly, any airport fees that will potentially prevent you from flying back home or to your next destination.

I freaked out once when I was traveling alone because I was looking at a guidebook that said I needed to pay airport tax, which I didn’t have enough money set aside for. Luckily, that book was outdated and I got home just fine

Tip: Always have a contingency plan. If you can, set aside an extra hundred dollars as an emergency fund. Don’t change it unless you absolutely have to.

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Plan for what you like to splurge on

You should be able to enjoy yourself while traveling and sometimes that means spending a little bit more on the experiences that make you happy. Whether it’s food, shopping, massages, tours or museums, don’t feel guilty about spending that extra dollar or two.  Plan for it. When is the next time you’ll be in that country? The chances of running into the same store with that adorable handicraft again are slim. Also, be conscious about what other people in the group don’t like spending on (like tips) to prevent any potential disagreement.

Tip: Check what’s the custom in the country that you’re visiting. Is it normal to tip and if so how much is the going rate?

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When to use your credit card

It’s best practice to always have cash on hand but don’t carry everything around. Predict and only carry how much you will need for that day. This helps to prevent you from spending too much all at once.

But your credit card is a safety net and security blanket. While I try to charge as little as possible, be practical and assess every situation. Charge if you have a big expense and need the extra cash because you’ve just begun your trip. I do find charging a good way to keep track of expenses especially when you’re in a big group and need people to reimburse you later on.

Tip: Remember to authorize your card for overseas transactions or use a bitcoin wallet like Xapo that helps you spend money in a secure and convenient way while traveling.

Have a tracking system when in big groups

When traveling in groups of 3 or more set up a kitty or a pool of money that’s contributed by everyone. This can be used for shared expenses like food and transportation.

Tip: Not all countries or activities give you receipts like taking a tuktuk for transportation in South East Asia so make sure you consciously note down all your expenses.

What are your tips and tricks? Share in the comments.

For the love of food, travel and social



Hello! I just wanted to drop in and say that I’m still alive. My vacation is over and I’m getting into the full swing of the New Year. After spending the holidays in Manila, and 1 week back at work in Singapore, I flew to India for my friend’s wedding – my first ever Indian wedding! It was one week of color and chaos, aloo and masala, poverty and palaces. I can’t wait to write more about it but in the mean time you can check out my instagram @senorica where I’m still spamming pictures from my trip.

Work has been crazy busy, but the good kind. I’m handling social media for new clients in two of my favourite industries – food and travel. It’s a lot of work but I’m learning a lot and having fun. It’s hard to get off vacation mode when I’m writing content about beautiful destinations and crafting content strategy! I feel incredibly lucky to have this chance for my interests to intersect. I constantly look back, trying to connect the dots, but I realised that you need to have experience and exposure in order to form those dots in the first place. Then suddenly all the confusion, restlessness and hardships of the last few years makes sense because it has brought me here to this junction.

Anyway, I can’t believe January is over already. I hope the first month of the year has been a good kind of busy for you too.